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The Ego Trap

(A Change Management Article)

Ego is and always has been a subtle leadership trap.

December through February, there are always several articles published by prestigious sources citing the top reasons technology projects fail. Invariably these accurate listings include estimation inaccuracies, scope variances, and communication failures.

However, these are most often the symptoms of a deeper root cause.

The two most significant root causes of most technology failures are adoption and ego. And honestly, Ego is usually the root for adoption failures.

I have children, and though now grown, they went through their teenage years like ordinary young people. I also know that for a good number of years my children viewed my intelligence as less than ideal, though I have gotten smarter in their eyes since then.

I specifically remember one conversation between my son and me. While I don’t recall the subject details, the way the argument was conducted is indelibly written in my memory. My son was arguing loudly for his position, and I was close on his heels. I finally interrupted him to reply in a loud voice, “We can have the argument like this!” Meaning loudly. “Or we can have it like reasonable people.” changing my tone to speak more peacefully. He chose the latter.

I was older, more experienced, more educated, and supposedly wiser than my son. So of course, I was invariably right. At the end of the now healthy argument, we separated, both assured of our position. Me not just because of my line of reasoning, but also because I was good at what I did for a living, and well… he was a teenager.

Unfortunately, my son had this annoying habit of being right. However, as usual, it took time for me to recognize the validity of his reasoning. His position had not changed the next day, though mine had, once I set my ego aside.

As technology professionals, we take pride in knowing a great deal about technology, always having the answers, being able to look up the answers from a reference source or being able to create the solutions out of code or data.

However, the truth is, we as technology professionals, actually know less than we think we do.

Most of us grew out of a history of individual performances or small team collaborations where the solutions emerge inside the team. At best we use a process I call Collaborative Ideation but only within a limited community.

As a result, we underestimate durations, complexities, and risk, and more importantly overestimate our abilities, knowledge, and insight.

When we recognize these limitations and set our ego aside, it is often replaced by that of another merchandising, marketing, logistics, operations, sales, or human resource leader who precisely knows what their people, customers, and associates need. Even in the age of Agile and eXtreme we often replace the response of those we are trying to serve with the Product Owner’s ego.

Consequently, we substitute our experience and expertise for that of our people, customers, and associates.

We all fall victims to this trap. We desire to feel unique and valued. As leaders, it is especially tempting, as our position or other's deference to it, naturally feeds our egos.

So, we must take action to fight it.

We spend days and weeks in the field, on the line, on alternate shifts, and with our customers to ensure we are both accessible and cognizant of the struggles they are trying to overcome and the growth they are seeking through our products and services.

Even then ego rears its ugly head to encourage commentary over listening, appraisal over observation, and critique over empathy.

We create focus groups, advisory groups, or change advocates and then elevate those individuals over other customer input, introducing ego into a process intended to put ego aside.

We often allow form to transcend purpose, allowing our ego to bait us into ineffectiveness. Instead, we need a daily dose of humility, recognizing that the most critical feedback is not our own.

Familiar with Design Thinking? Human Centered Design? Success is not in the design process but in our ability to empathize with those for whom we are designing. The value of pretotyping and rapid prototyping is not the fast delivery, but rather the swift and iterative feedback from those most knowledgeable about their needs and ability to apply the solution to help them grow. The value of our Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is not the step toward completion, but a step toward a stronger empathy experience.

The battle never ends. Our mindset and attitude are our best weapons to check our ego at the door, exercise empathy, and allow our organizations to develop as we meet the growth needs of our customers.

Ego is and always has been a subtle leadership trap that all of us must continually fight.

© 2019 Barry Robbins, Silver Bear Solutions

Contact The Author

Barry Robbins is an IT Executive with a strong record of success in transforming IT organizations by envisioning, developing, and implementing IT business solutions.


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